Eye on Extremism: September 16, 2022

Daily Mail: Taliban Posts ISIS-Style Execution Videos Showing Prisoners Being Shot Dead By Cheering Fanatics As They Copy Terror Group's Tactics To Instil Fear Among Afghan Resistance Fighters

“The Taliban have summarily executed members of a resistance group fighting against their harsh rule in Afghanistan. A video filmed and shared on the Taliban's group chats shows a group of five blindfolded fighters who have their hands tied behind them before they are executed by cheering members of the Taliban. In a move that echoes ISIS's social media strategy, Taliban shared their battlefield atrocities to spread fear among their enemies. The executed fighters are members of the National Resistance Front (NRF), a nascent group operating mainly out of the Panjshir Valley in central Afghanistan. Another video shows two groups of men squatting on a hillside with their hands tied behind their backs before being shot with automatic rifles by Taliban fighters.  The fighters can be heard shouting 'Allahu Akbar', and a man is later heard saying 'stop it, stop it' after the captives slump forward, apparently dead.  'Don't waste the bullets,' another fighter of the Taliban said.  Later in the clip a Taliban fighter says one of the victims is alive as he seemingly moves, then two members of the Taliban start shooting at him. The footage went viral a day after the Taliban said its forces had killed at least 40 NRF fighters in clashes in the Panjshir Valley.’”

The Washington Post: White House Announces Tech Company Efforts To Combat Violent Extremism

“The White House on Thursday announced that major companies would roll out a series of new policies and tools to combat the spread of extremism on their sites. Major social media services, including YouTube, Twitch, Microsoft and Facebook-parent Meta, announced their new initiatives to limit the spread of hateful rhetoric in coordination with a White House gathering on hate-fueled violence. The announcements follow mounting pressure on the companies to address the role their services play in amplifying hateful rhetoric, especially in the wake of mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Tex., where the shooters had histories of violent rhetoric online. YouTube will update its policies to remove videos glorifying acts for the purpose of inspiring others or fundraising, even when the creators don’t have links to terrorist groups. Twitch, an Amazon-owned streaming service, soon will roll out new tools to help its creators improve safety and limit harassment on their channels. And Microsoft will launch online safety education for students and families within its popular game Minecraft. Political pressure has been mounting on President Biden and Vice President Harris to follow through on their campaign pledges to more closely scrutinize the link between social media and violence. Biden is also expected to reiterate Thursday his calls to Congress to “fundamentally reform” Section 230, a legal shield that protects tech companies from lawsuits over the photos, videos and other content people share on their services.”

United States

NPR: Biden Calls On The Country To Unite Against White Supremacy At A Summit On Hate

“President Biden said Thursday that America can't remain silent when it comes to combating white supremacy and hate in an address at a White House summit on hate-based violence. The event, called the "United We Stand" summit, gathered experts and survivors and included bipartisan local leaders. It also honored communities that have been through hate-based attacks, including the mass shootings that took place at gay nightclub in Orlando in 2016; at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in 2019, where the assailant said he was targeting Mexicans; and the expressly racist shooting that killed 10 Black people in a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket earlier this year. Biden was introduced by Susan Bro, whose daughter Heather Heyer was killed during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. in 2017. The rally, Biden has said since 2019, is the reason he decided to run for president. "We need to say clearly and forcefully, white supremacy, all forms of hate... have no place in America," Biden said. "As to those who say, we bring this up, we just divide the country — bring it up, we silence it, instead of remaining silenced. For in silence, wounds deepen."”

CBS News: Terrorist Attack Victims Ask Biden To Take Further Action On $4 Billion In Frozen Afghan Funds

“More than 350 U.S. victims of terrorist attacks are formally asking President Joe Biden to move currently frozen Afghan assets into a fund created by Congress to benefit all families, according to a new letter obtained by CBS News. “We write to you today with a respectful but urgent request: to move the currently frozen Afghan assets into the USVSST (US Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism) Fund to accomplish your goal of supporting U.S. terrorism victims,” the families wrote in their Sept. 14 letter to the president. They  said that the decision to leave nearly $4 billion dollars for a New York court to decide compensation had created “vicious infighting, legal maneuvering, and political gamesmanship that has beset our friends, colleagues, and loved ones regarding the best fair and equitable way to distribute the $3.5 billion in frozen DAB (Da Afghanistan Bank) funds.” A “CBS Mornings” investigation earlier this year revealed a race to the courthouse, after the president signed an executive order in February that left the frozen Afghan funds with a New York court to consider victim compensation claims. Last month, a New York magistrate said that she was unable to disburse any of the frozen assets and recommended against allowing a small group of 9/11 families with claims against the Taliban to draw on the assets.”

Syria

Associated Press: Declassified Report Shows US Predictions Of IS Group Threat

“U.S. intelligence officials predicted two years ago that the Islamic State group would likely regain much of its former strength and global influence, particularly if American and other Western forces reduced their role in countering the extremist movement, according to a newly declassified report. Analysts said many of the judgments in the 2020 report appear prescient today, particularly as the group is resurgent in Afghanistan following President Joe Biden’s withdrawal of American forces last year. The Islamic State group is no longer controlling huge swaths of territory or staging attacks in the United States as it did several years ago before a major U.S.-led offensive. But it is now slowly rebuilding some core capabilities in Iraq and Syria and increasingly fighting local governments in places including Afghanistan, where an affiliate of the IS group, also known by the acronym ISIS, is fighting the ruling Taliban following the U.S. withdrawal. “If the United States and our partners pull back or withdraw further from areas where ISIS is active, the group’s trajectory will increasingly depend on local governments' will and capability to fill the resulting security voids,” says the report, originally published in classified form in May 2020, months after then-President Donald Trump's administration reached an agreement with the Taliban to pull out American troops.”

Voice Of America: US Believes Al-Qaida, IS Shaken By Leadership Losses

“Despite lingering doubts about the usefulness of so-called decapitation strikes, U.S. operations to kill senior terrorist leaders are paying dividends, according to one of Washington’s top counterterrorism officials. Both the Islamic State terror group and al-Qaida have been forced to stay in “survival mode” following the deaths of their leaders as a result of U.S. actions this year, National Counterterrorism Center Director Christine Abizaid said Thursday. Islamic State, in particular, she said, has been forced to refocus following the death of former emir Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, also known as Hajji Abdallah, following a U.S. special forces raid in northwestern Syria in February. At the time, senior U.S. military officials described Abu Ibrahim’s death as a “significant blow,” an assessment that has been borne out in the way IS has carried out operations in recent months. “What’s important about it is it’s not just him,” Abizaid told an intelligence and security conference outside Washington, responding to a question submitted by VOA. “It's that he is the last in a long line of leaders who are no longer trying to attack the United States and trying to rout Syria and regain territorial control in a way that, I think, has really reflected a major talent loss in ISIS senior leadership,” Abizaid said, using another acronym for the terror group. “[It] has caused them to focus on kind of branch expansion that has diffused the threat and, again, made the focus on the United States less acute than we had seen in prior years.”

Afghanistan

Reuters: Taliban Condemn U.S. Move To Form Swiss-Based Trust For Afghan Central Bank Funds

“The Taliban's foreign affairs ministry on Thursday condemned the United States' decision to transfer Afghan central bank reserves into a Swiss-based trust, saying it was against international norms. On Wednesday, Washington announced it would transfer $3.5 billion in previously frozen Afghan central bank assets into a new trust fund that it said would be shielded from the Taliban and used to help stabilise Afghanistan's collapsed economy. The foreign affairs ministry deemed the U.S. decision "to transfer a part of the reserves of the Central Bank of Afghanistan to Switzerland and use it for targeted disbursement without any input by Afghanistan as unacceptable and a violation of international norms," spokesperson Abdul Qahar Balkhi said in a statement. "If the reserves are disbursed without taking into consideration legitimate demands of the Afghans, the Islamic Emirate will be forced to impose fines against, and ban activities of, all individuals, institutions and companies that facilitate this illegal venture and seek to misuse central bank reserves for humanitarian and other purposes," he said.”

Pakistan

Bloomberg: Pakistan Pushes Afghanistan To Hunt Down Militant Leader

“Authorities in Pakistan said they have offered the Taliban “intelligence and operational assistance” to hunt down the leader of a Pakistani militant group who is believed to be in Afghanistan. Masood Azhar, the head of the Jaish-e-Mohammed organization, was designated a global terrorist by the United Nations Security Council in 2019. The issue of Azhar’s presence in Afghanistan has been raised formally on “multiple occasions” with Taliban intermediaries, who have been presented with evidence of his presence and told that he’s wanted in terrorism cases in Pakistan, said a spokesman for Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry, Asim Iftikhar Ahmad, according to a briefing transcript. “Pakistan, as well as the international community, have sufficient reasons to be concerned that there still remain pockets of ungoverned spaces within Afghanistan that are being used by terrorist groups as safe havens,” he said. He added that the Taliban are expected to deliver on their assurances that they wouldn’t allow terrorists to operate against any country from Afghan soil. Azhar became a factor in tensions between Pakistan and India after Jaish-e-Mohammed took responsibility for a 2019 car bombing in Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed 40 paramilitary troops.”

Yemen

Arab News: Yemen Troops Drive Al-Qaeda From Abyan Stronghold

“Yemeni forces say they have driven Al-Qaeda militants from a key mountain stronghold in the province of Abyan, in the latest victory against the terrorist group. Military units commanded by the pro-independence Southern Transitional Council on Thursday pushed deep into Omaran valley to strike a blow against the group’s decade-long occupation, Mohammed Al-Naqeeb, the STC’s spokesman, told Arab News. “They tried to stop our forces’ advance into the valley by deploying snipers, planting IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and blowing up bridges and roads,” he said. Yemeni forces “cautiously” pushed into the valley as other troops blocked the entrances to catch fleeing militants, he added. One soldier was killed and four were injured when the militants counterattacked and detonated 15 IEDs, he said. Despite the stiff resistance, local officials now say nearly 80 percent of Abyan has been cleared of Al-Qaeda. STC forces also took control of an area called Al-Mousinah in neighbouring Shabwa province, the spokesman said. Al-Qaeda announced on social media that it would launch a counteroffensive called “Truth Arrows,” while also denying it had suffered setbacks in Abyan and Shabwa.”

Middle East

The Times Of Israel: Israeli Injured In Suspected Terror Shooting At Settlement Of Carmel

“An Israeli man was shot and moderately hurt in a suspected terror attack in the southern West Bank settlement of Carmel on Thursday night, the military and medics said. The incident came as an infiltration siren sounded in the area, and the military’s Home Front Command instructed residents to remain in their homes and lock their doors and windows. The restrictions were lifted several hours later. The Magen David Adom ambulance service said its medics treated an 18-year-old man who was moderately hurt by gunfire, and took him to Beersheba’s Soroka hospital. The Rescuers Without Borders emergency service said it also received a report by a car that had come under fire just outside the town as well, possibly by the same attacker. The gunman fled the scene. There were no indications that the gunman actually managed to enter the settlement during the attack, but rather that he shot at it from outside. The Israel Defense Forces said it had dispatched dozens of troops to the scene and launched a manhunt for the gunman and other possible suspects. A video posted to social media showed several people running in the town as the siren rang out.”

Asharq Al-Awsat: Palestinian Teen Killed In West Bank Clashes

“A Palestinian teenager was killed Thursday during clashes with the Israeli army near Jenin in the occupied West Bank, medical sources said. Uday Salah, 17, was “killed by a bullet to the head fired by the Israeli occupation soldiers in Kafr Dan, Jenin governorate,” the Palestinian health ministry said. The Israeli army said its forces were “mapping out the homes of the terrorists who killed Major Bar Falah and arresting suspects throughout the West Bank.” Falah was killed on Wednesday in clashes near the Jalameh checkpoint, north of Jenin, which also killed Palestinians Ahmed Abed and Abdul Rahman Abed. Palestinian news agency Wafa reported that soldiers had raided the family homes of both Ahmed and Abdul Rahman Abed, and arrested “Amer Taha Abed, who is the cousin of the martyr Ahmed Abed.” The Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the armed wing of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s secular Fatah movement, had claimed responsibility for the Israeli major’s death. Jenin has suffered frequent violence in recent months, part of a deadly flare-up that began in mid-March following deadly attacks on Israeli targets, mostly by Palestinians. In response, Israel has launched near nightly raids on West Bank towns and cities that have killed dozens of Palestinians, including fighters.”

Nigeria

Premium Times Nigeria: Terrorists’ Use Of Tech In West Africa Must Be Contained

“When al-Shabaab attacked the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya in 2013, the group live-blogged the terrifying event on Twitter, taunting the authorities who were struggling to end the siege. It represented a chilling milestone in the weaponisation of social media platforms and demonstrated the audacity and adaptive nature of Africa’s armed groups. Nearly a decade later, terrorist groups in West Africa are fine-tuning their tactics to hijack social media platforms and messaging apps. Parts of the region have been home to the fastest growing and deadliest violent extremists, the Global Terrorism Index reveals. And there has been a steady rise in incidents where social media platforms and messaging apps have become an integral part of extremists’ modus operandi. As the physical and online worlds fuse, many groups, especially al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), are embedding the internet deeper into their operations, according to researchers such as Bulama Bukarti of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. What’s more, given their decentralised character, these groups are proving harder to intercept and are achieving a reach online that would not be possible in the physical world. A recent workshop in Ghana organised by Tech Against Terrorism (TAT) laid out the expansive nature of online terrorist content in West Africa and highlighted strategies to mitigate the risks.”

Daily Post Nigeria: Borno: ISWAP Kills 8 Boko Haram In A Rival Clash

“A fierce battle broke out between Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and has led to the death of eight fighters, including a middle rank Commander simply identified as “Kundu”. It was gathered that the incident, which took place on Thursday September 15, between Dikwa and Bama Local Government Areas, also left many fighters from both the Jama’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihad and ISWAP injured. An Intelligence officer told Zagazola Makama, a counterinsurgency expert and security analyst in Lake Chad that Kundu and his team were on a robbery mission when the ISWAP intercepted them on six motorcycles each conveying three fighters. “A Heavy fight ensued between the terrorists resulting in 8 casualties on the side of the Boko Haram terrorists, while few ISWAP terrorists were wounded. “The surviving Boko Haram terrorists took to their heels, leaving their motorcycles to the ISWAP terrorists,” Zagazola tweeted.”

France

AFP: Shock Video Sparks Horror At France Attacks Trial

“A video showing how an Islamist extremist ploughed his truck into a crowd in Nice killing 86 people while France was celebrating its national day sparked anguish and horror at the attack trial on Thursday. Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, 31, was killed by police after a four-minute rampage down the seaside embankment of the Promenade des Anglais, where thousands of locals and tourists were celebrating July 14 or Bastille Day in 2016. The footage, never shown in public, was presented as evidence at the trial of eight people suspected of helping Lahouaiej-Bouhlel or knowing of his intentions. Witnesses and survivors gasped in horror as the screen filled with people mowed down by the criss-crossing vehicle, their bodies broken and squashed under its wheels. Presiding judge Laurent Raviot had warned the courtroom that the images, filmed by a bystander, were “terrifying”. When the lights were dimmed for the screening, a sharp intake of breath went through the courtroom, followed quickly by several cries of anguish. Veronique Marchand, a 79-year old woman whose husband died in the attack, screamed and left the room. Her cries continued to be heard from the corridor through the closed doors.”

Canada

CTV News: Anti-Hate Experts Urge Action Against Right-Wing Extremism In Canada

“Anti-hate experts are urging policy makers to take action against what they describe as growing right-wing extremism in Canada. One of these experts says research suggests that millions of Canadians have been drawn into the far right over the course of the pandemic, some of whom have been indoctrinated by misinformation and lies that were then amplified by the Freedom Convoy. Evan Balgord, the executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, says the convoy’s organizers were able to successfully use the month-long February protest to recruit vaccine-hesitant people into their movement. “They were now rubbing shoulders with, you know, racists and bigots and people who would like to use violence to overthrow the government. A portion of those people are getting further radicalized.” Balgord was one of more than a dozen experts who spoke at “Hate Among Us,” an international conference held in Ottawa Tuesday that discussed solutions to growing extremism. Although some of the Convoy’s leadership is now facing criminal charges, Balgord says the movement’s ideas are entrenched in the mainstream. Balgord, whose organization tracked right-wing groups and monitored their activities and influence, claims that six years ago there were around 20,000 white supremacists in Canada.”

Technology

Reuters: Meta Oversight Board Objects To Removing Positive Newspaper Report On Taliban

“Meta Platforms Inc's (META.O) independent Oversight Board said on Thursday that Facebook should not have taken down a newspaper report about the Taliban that it considered positive, backing users' freedom of expression and saying the tech company relied too heavily on automated moderation. Meta found the post on the Taliban announcing that schools and colleges in Afghanistan for women and girls would reopen in March violated Facebook's policies because it "praised" entities deemed to "engage in serious offline harms". The company limited the newspaper's access to certain Facebook features after taking down the post. The newspaper appealed the decision after which the post was referred to a special moderation queue, but was never reviewed, according to the Oversight Board. The Oversight Board said Meta's decision to remove the post was inconsistent with Facebook's policies as they allow reporting on such organizations, and the company reversed its decision after the board selected the case.”

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